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Duck sake

Two University of St Andrews students turned animal rescuers last week after a David Russell Apartments (DRA) duck got its beak stuck in a Schweppes can.

Third year Art History and Social Anthropology student Katy Lee, and her flatmate Erin Rawles (third year International Relations and Geography), were returning from grocery shopping when they spotted local man John Fettes and his daughter Kayden struggling to catch the distressed duck with a towel and a fishing net. Katy and Erin were among a number of students and town residents who gathered to try and lend a hand, wading into the water and chasing the duck from one side of Fife Park to the other before it took flight and disappeared.

The crowd scattered but Katy suspected the duck wouldn’t have gone far and decided to keep looking, not realising the rescue attempt had been ongoing for several days since DRA residence managers raised the alarm. Lindsay Elliot, House Service Assistant, had been phoning the SSPCA daily, and rescue officers had made several failed attempts to catch the duck.

Hand holding duck wrapped in a shirtThen Katy found the duck hiding under a bush by the Riggs building.

Katy recalls: “I could get within arms-reach of him, but he was very uneasy and waddled away so I just followed him around for a good ten minutes at a respectful distance, sometimes pretending I wasn’t interested in him, just so he could get used to my presence and wouldn’t think I was trying to eat him.

“At this point I texted Erin requesting peas which might help me lure him out (even though he couldn’t eat). Eventually I managed to corner him against one of the buildings and spent a fair bit of time just talking to him and ‘speaking duck’, something I used to do with ducklings who lived by my house.”

According to Katy ‘speaking duck’ involves a high-pitched whistle through the teeth that sounds like a baby bird (equally useful for cats).

Katy continued: “He seemed really responsive to that and let me get within a couple of feet of him. I was able to grab him really easily then and thankfully managed to keep his wings against his body so he didn’t get hurt. I wrapped him in my flannel shirt and was stuck like that for a good ten minutes more before Erin arrived with the thawed peas to discover I had already caught him.

“She gave me my phone before going back to get some tools, which is when I looked on social media and discovered that this duck was the subject of widespread concern. We tried to cut the can off but quickly realised we wouldn’t be able to without hurting him. Unable to get through to the SSPCA, we called Provost Vets who told us to bring him in.

“After ungracefully stuffing him in a box we walked over to Provost where they were able to safely remove the can.”

While walking back from the vets, Katy and Erin ran into John Fettes and his daughter, who had been leading the rescue effort. John said: “We’d heard the duck had been sighted down at the DRA so we gathered a few people from Facebook to get him as we expected he was now getting tired.

Two girls carry a duck in a box
Erin (left) and Katy carry the duck in a box © John Fettes

“We searched the ponds at the DRA with no luck then we decided to leave and go check Lade Braes again. Luckily we bumped into Katy and Erin.”

They were very happy to see the animal was safe and together they released the duck back into the DRA pond where his mate appeared to be waiting for him. The ducks were very happy to be reunited.

Katy said: “I was lucky enough to find and catch him, but without an entire community trying to help I wouldn’t have noticed the situation in the first place. I am especially grateful to everyone who helped tire him out in the hours before I caught him as I’m sure that helped, and also to Provost for their willingness to help and treat him free of charge.”

Hundreds of people across the community have responded with relief to news of the happy ending, with townspeople promising to buy Katy and Erin a drink in the pub when lockdown is over. Meanwhile Lindsay Elliot has been keeping an eye on the duck, and reports that he’s on good form with a healthy appetite.

As an environmental facilitator for her hall of residence, Lindsay hopes the duck’s story will encourage people to dispose of their waste responsibly and help towards a litter-free Fife.


Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office.

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